Partners See Winners And Losers In Supreme Court's Printer Cartridge Ruling

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A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court this week that gives legal blessing to the common practice of using remanufactured printer ink cartridges has potential upsides and downsides for solution providers, depending on what their business model is, partners told CRN.

Remanufactured printer cartridges are those that have been refurbished and refilled with ink by a third party, and then resold for a price below that of new cartridges.

The Supreme Court ruled against printer vendor Lexmark, which had accused a cartridge remanufacturer, Impression Products, of violating Lexmark's patent rights. "We conclude that Lexmark exhausted its patent rights in these cartridges the moment it sold them," the Supreme Court ruling states.

[Related: Partners: Off-Brand Cartridges Are Breaking HP Printers, 'Crap In- Crap Out']

Joe Balsarotti, president of St. Peters, Mo.-based solution provider Software To Go, said that while his firm does tend to use new OEM printer cartridges when serving customers' printer needs, his company does occasionally purchase remanufactured cartridges. "It's like anything else—you have to find a reputable company that's doing a good job" with remanufacturing printer cartridges, he said.

As for the Supreme Court ruling itself, "I'm happy to finally see a decision that clarifies it," Balsarotti said.  

"The idea of competition [from remanufactured cartridges] is good. It creates opportunities. There are going to be winners and losers," he said. "I would imagine the printer manufacturers will have to rethink their artificially low prices for the hardware with the thought that they'll make it up with the consumables. So it will probably put some common sense in the initial hardware pricing."

However, Bob Venero, CEO of Holbrook, N.Y.-based solution provider Future Tech, said the Supreme Court ruling will lead to more printer breakdowns as a result of inferior ink supplies--as well as sowing confusion around warranties.

"If I've got a refilled printer cartridge on a $3,000 printer, and that printer blows up—gets a 'toner bomb' as we call it—who's responsible for that?" he said. "So Big Brother coming in and setting up a precedent causes more damage than good out there in the market … This is definitely going to be a negative impact on the partner community."

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